Monday, June 02, 2008

The correct facts or merely wishful thinking?

The New York Times often writes articles with obvious falsehoods that are never corrected (see here for example). By contrast, the Times' public editor thought it necessary to "correct" an op-ed by Edward Luttwak:
ON May 12, The Times published an Op-Ed article by Edward N. Luttwak, a military historian, who argued that any hopes that a President Barack Obama might improve relations with the Muslim world were unrealistic because Muslims would be “horrified” once they learned that Obama had abandoned the Islam of his father and embraced Christianity as a young adult.

Under “Muslim law as it is universally understood,” Luttwak wrote, Obama was born a Muslim, and his “conversion” to Christianity was an act of apostasy, a capital offense and “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit.” While no Muslim country would be likely to prosecute him, Luttwak said, a state visit to such a nation would present serious security challenges “because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards.” ....

The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions. But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture. ....

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.

Notice the vague phrasing of that last paragraph: Hoyt does not name the scholars or explain what part of Luttwak's article was "wrong." If one reads further, it becomes clear that the part that Hoyt claims Luttwak got wrong is that he shouldn't have written “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” He should instead have written maybe "nearly" universally understood. For example, Hoyt found this claimed exception for the requirement that, under Muslim law, a child of a Muslim, such as Sen. Obama, must be Muslim:
Sherman A. Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, cited an ancient Islamic jurist, Ibn al-Qasim, who said, “If you divorce a Christian woman and ignore your child from her to the point that the child grows up to be a Christian, the child is to be left,” meaning left to make his own choice. Jackson said that there was not total agreement among Islamic jurists on the point, but Luttwak’s assertion to the contrary was wrong.
However, Sen. Obama had not one but two fathers who were Muslim and Hoyt makes no attempt to show that Obama met the standard for having been "ignored" by both of them or even that this "ignored" exception is widely recognized.

Hoyt also found some "experts" who pointed out that a sentence against Obama would not be officially carried out unless Obama were to visit a strict Muslim country. However, despite Hoyt's claims, that is not in disagreement with Luttwak's article.

In 2006, that is, before Sen. Obama's status became a political issue, the BBC wrote on Muslim opinions on the subject of apostasy:

Abdelsabour Shahin, an Islamist writer and academic at Cairo University, told the BBC that although Islam in principle enshrined freedom of belief, there were severe restrictions on that freedom.

"If someone changes from Islam to kufr (unbelief), that has to remain a personal matter, and he should not make it public," he said.

In other words, an apostate in a Muslim society, according to this view, forfeits his freedom of expression. If he goes public he should be executed, says Dr Shahin.

But if the Koran has not stipulated the killing of apostates, how does Dr Shahin come to this judgement?

He says there is an authoritative and unambiguous hadith (saying of the prophet) which calls for the killing of the apostate - "He who changes his religion should be killed", says Dr Shahin, quoting from the sayings of the prophet. [emphasis added]

Others disagree. Professor Abdelmouti Bayoumi of the Islamic Research Academy in Cairo told the BBC that the generality of the aforementioned hadith has been restricted by another hadith from the prophet.

Dr Bayoumi says that according to that hadith changing one's religion alone is not enough for applying capital punishment

He says the apostate has also to be found working against the interests of the Muslim society or nation - only then should he be executed.

These exceptions do not help Sen. Obama. He has made is Christianity public and, as a member of a non-Muslim government, it is easy to argue that he has not always worked for the "interests of the Muslim society or nation." Hoyt's claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the punishment, as Shahin and Bayoumi agree, is execution.

In some versions, there is no need to wait for an official court determination of apostasy: It is the duty of any individual Muslim, acting on his own discretion, to carry out the execution.

To my mind, Hoyt's nitpicking on Luttwak's use of the word "universally" only serves to obscure the fact that large parts of Islam do consider the correct punishment for apostasy to be execution. There is no way to make this compatible with "free speech," "tolerance," "diversity," or "multiculturalism."

Hat tip: BotW.

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